ISLAND ESCAPE SOLD TO CRUISE HOLDINGS (DECEMBER 6TH UPDATE)

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New horizons venture for the well travelled Island Escape…

December 7th update:

The Cruise Industry News website (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) is reporting that the ship purchased by the new start up Chinese operator, Diamond Cruises, is actually Estur’s Aegean Paradise, and not the Island Escape, as previously cited by the same source.

As of this moment, the actual future deployment of the Island Escape -if any- has yet to be determined.

The Cruise and Ferry website (www.cruiseandferry.net) is reporting the sale by Thomson Cruises of the Island Escape to Cruise Holdings.

The vessel is apparently underway to the French port of Brest, where she will be renamed as Ocean Gala. News of any upgrades or future deployment is as yet unclear, but it seems that the popular budget vessel will continue in cruise service after all- welcome news for the many thousands of passengers with fond memories of this ship.

Island Escape actually started life as the Scandinavia of 1982. She was a dual purpose cruise and car ferry, intended to run on a regular service between New York and the Bahamas for DFDS Seaways.

The service was never the anticipated success, and the Scandinavia soon returned to Europe to operate on the overnight cruise ferry service between Copenhagen and Oslo.

It was Royal Caribbean international that first saw the potential for her as a ship ideally suited to short cruises. The ship was extensively refitted, including the installation of the trademark RCCL ‘Viking Crown’ lounge around her funnel, and she was put back into service under the name of Viking Serenade.

in this guise, she ran for many successful seasons on the three and four night cruise run from Los Angeles down to Ensenada, Mexico. Once more surplus to requirements by the turn of the new century, she was taken over by First Choice cruises, renamed as the Island Escape, and put into service on seven night cruises from Palma de Mallorca to the Mediterranean. In winter, the doughty little ship sometimes even sailed to Brazil to operate voyages there.

Increasingly however, over winter the Island Escape usually home ported in Tenerife for similar, week long budget cruise runs to the Canary Islands and Madeira, a role in which she proved very popular.

Once First Choice was assimilated into the Thomson Brand, the Island Escape continued to sail, but was often marketed separately from the main body of the Thomson Cruises fleet. With new tonnage becoming available to Thomson of late, the sale of Island Escape was seen as inevitable.

Island Escape gained a good reputation as a solid, high density cruise ship that was comfortable and familiar, rather than stunning and luxurious- very much an entry level product that, none the less, endeared herself to many. It is a matter of some gratitude that she will continue to sail on as a part of the global cruise family as the Ocean Gala.

I wish the ship and her new owners every success. Stay tuned for updates as they become available.

UPDATE:

The respected industry website, Cruise Industry News (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) is reporting that the Island Escape has actually been sold to a start up Chinese cruise operator, Diamond Cruises.

She will operate for them on cruises from Shanghai after an extensive refurbishment designed to make her more suitable for the local trade. This refit will be carried out in Europe.

The website quotes the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association as it’s prime source of information.

 

 

 

 

WHAT NEXT FOR THE ISLAND ESCAPE?

Is the sun about to set on Island Escape?

Is the sun about to set on Island Escape?

With the coming 2016 delivery of the Thomson Discovery to the TUI UK based fleet, there is still no word as to the fate of the current fleet stalwart, Island Escape.

The 1,800 passenger, 1982 built ship has been a staple of the budget Mediterranean cruise circuit for the better part of two decades, and provided a first cruise experience for literally thousands of passengers. But she is due to make her last such sailing in October and, as of yet, no future buyer has stepped forward to take on the formerBahamas car ferry.

The website Marine Consultant (www.marine-consultant.com) has the vessel listed for sale at a price of around $20 million, with delivery offered from October. The Island Escape is listed as fully SOLAS 2010 compliant.

With no disclosed potential buyers, the future for the 33 year old ship does not look great.

She would work for a company like Celestyal Cruises, the specialist, short cruise operator that has made the Greek and Turkish market largely its own. For them, the Island Escape might well make a very appealing option for the short, three and four day cruise itineraries that the line offers from March to November each year.

That said, would Celestyal- who will take on the new Celestyal Nefeli next March- be willing to invest in additional tonnage, given the air of uncertainty and political tension currently prevalent in the region?

Here’s hoping that this popular, fondly remembered ship does, indeed, find suitable future employment. As ever, stay tuned for any news updates.

THOMSON CRUISES ADDS SPLENDID DISCOVERY

Thomson |Cruises has announced that it’s new acquisition, to be renamed Thomson Discovery, will be based in the Mediterranean in June, 2016,  following a refurbishment and corporate rebranding.

The ship, currently sailing as Royal Caribbean’s 1996-built Splendour Of The Seas, is twice as large as any other ship in the current Thomson fleet, and comes in at around 70,000 tons. And- in a first for the UK side of the company- Thomson will own a ship with around 40 per cent of cabins that have private balconies.

As previously predicted on this blog, the ship will be based in Palma De Mallorca for a first season, sailing on four alternating seven day itineraries. Ports of call will feature all of the front rank ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ favourite destinations such as Rome, Florence, Villefranche, Barcelona and Cadiz.

With a capacity of 1,830 passengers accommodated in some 915 cabins, the addition of Thomson Discovery to the Thomson portfolio allows the line considerable options to shuffle what will now be a five ship fleet pack. The ship will replace the ageing island Escape- ironically, another ex Royal Caribbean ship which has been routinely laid up for the last few winter seasons.

While the company has yet to announce plans for any winter deployment of this prime new product, I would bet on her going out to the Caribbean to sail out of Barbados. This would allow Thomson to offer a significantly upgraded product to compete with the big P&O vessels that sail winter round from the Caribbean port.

Naturally, time and tide will tell. As ever, stay tuned.

Thomson Discovery will be offering passengers such wonderful sighs as Pisa from June, 2016

Thomson Discovery will be offering passengers such wonderful sights as Pisa from June, 2016

ROYAL CARIBBEAN; ROAMING AND ROLLING…..

As all eyes await the imminent arrival of Anthem Of The Seas in Southampton, and the first full season deployment of an Oasis class ship in the Med is about to be ushered in by Allure Of The Seas, other bits and pieces are going on at Royal Caribbean that seem to have largely slipped under the radar.

With two such genuine, headline grabbing acts, this is hardly surprising. Yet these other comings and goings are, in their own ways, no less news worthy than the shenanigans involving their bigger offspring. So, let’s look at two of them.

Firstly, Splendour Of The Seas will be leaving the fleet in 2016 to join Thomson Cruises (Thomson Splendour, anyone?) The 69,000 ton ship, delivered in March of 1996, was the second of the so-called ‘Vision’ class ships. Like her earlier sibling- Legend Of The Seas- she boasted a vast amount of glass walls all around the ship and, for the first time, larger than average cabins compared the the previous Sovereign class.

Make no mistake; the sale of the first of the Vision class marks a true watershed for RCCL. For Thomson, the ship is a tremendous acquisition. Twice as large as anything else they have ever owned, and with a larger number of good balcony cabins, the ship will replace the Island Escape- ironically, another one time ex-RCCL ship- in the Mediterranean, at least initially. Itineraries are due to be announced next month.

Also next April, Majesty Of The Seas will finally leave the fleet. The last of the original Sovereign class trio will enjoy a happy reunion with her two previously departed sisters over at Pullmantur. The question is, what will replace her on the lucrative, three and four night Bahamas and Key West runs out of Miami.

It is possible that Legend Of The Seas could step into this role. In any event, I fully expect it to be one of the remaining five ships of the Vision class. It seems as yet unlikely that one of the newer, shinier Radiance class vessels would be relegated to such a short, port intensive run.

Finishing the ‘Royal Round Up’, the line has announced that the third of the Oasis class vessels- Harmony Of The Seas- will debut in the Caribbean next year, alongside her two sisters. And- one that is already proving popular news here in the UK- the ever popular Independence Of The Seas will be returning to Southampton to resume year round sailings.

As ever, stay tuned.

A ROYAL CARIBBEAN ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW’- SHIPS YOU LOVED AND LOST…

Will one of the Vision class ships be next to go?

Will one of the Vision class ships be next to go?

Without doubt, no single cruise line has enjoyed the phenomenal growth trajectory of Royal Caribbean in the past few years. And, with a continuing conga line of new builds yet to come, that giddy momentum shows no signs of stalling.

As more and more incredible, amenity laden ships have come on line, there has been an inevitable shedding of the smaller, older ships that were the foundation blocks for the 21st century incarnation of Royal Caribbean. And, while the first of those ships have now sadly come to the end of their lives in foreign scrapyards, a number of those original, storied stalwarts are still out there, leading happy and profitable ‘after lives’ …..

SONG OF AMERICA (1982)

The first new build for Royal Caribbean in over a decade, the 38,000 ton Song Of America was the first ship in the company to have a full, wrap around Viking Crown lounge around the funnel, as well as the ‘cabins forward, public rooms aft’ layout which was then very popular in the cruise industry.

She was a stunning vessel, with acres of open deck space and large, twin pools. In her early years, the Song Of America ran on the popular, week long New York to Bermuda circuit. The ship was very popular for many years, and became a mainstay of the fleet.

Happily, she is still with us. After a few changes of owner, she is now sailing for Louis Cruises as the Louis Olympia. The ship-still immediately recognisable- runs three and four night cruises from the port of Piraeus, Athens, to the Greek Islands every week, from March through to November each year.

Sovereign Of The Seas

Sovereign Of The Seas

SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS (1988)

The original Royal Caribbean mega ship, Sovereign Of The Seas was the first of a 74,000 ton, French built trio that were the largest sister ships ever constructed at the time. Her impact was sensational, and her vast, five story Centrum Lobby was widely acclaimed at the time as the most sensational public space at sea.

Visually, the Sovereign Of The Seas was a vastly upscale version of the earlier Song Of America, and followed that ship in having the same arrangement of cabins in the forward part of the ship, while most of the public rooms were arranged in a kind of ‘layer cake’ in the aft part.

Originally, the Sovereign Of The Seas ran a series of hugely successful, seven night cruises out of Miami to the Caribbean. As new ships came on line in the 90’s, the ship was relegated to running three and four night cruises to the Bahamas out of Port Canaveral.

This ground breaking ship is still with us, sailing for Spanish cruise line, Pullmantur (a Royal Caribbean affiliate) as the simply renamed Sovereign. She now runs seven night cruises in the western Mediterranean out of Barcelona, and occasionally sails over to South America to offer winter cruises from Brazil. Ironically, like her former great rival, the SS. Norway, she now sports a stunning, royal blue hull.

Inside the Viking Crown, Majesty Of The Seas

Inside the Viking Crown, Majesty Of The Seas

NORDIC EMPRESS (1990)

Originally ordered for the soon to be defunct Admiral Cruises, but then purchased by Royal Caribbean on the slipway, the beautiful, 42,000 ton Nordic Empress was built in the same French shipyard as all three of her Sovereign class counterparts in the fleet.

Smaller and more intimate, the Nordic Empress operated for many years on the lucrative Bermuda circuit in summer; a run for which her smaller size made her perfect. Over the winter, she usually offered longer, in depth, ‘deep Caribbean’ cruises from Miami.

She was especially famed for her aft facing, three story high dining room, without doubt one of the most beautiful rooms ever to go to sea. After a spell of being restyled as the Empress Of The Seas, she also made the move over to Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur.

Today, renamed as Empress, this still lovely ship sails in the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and occasionally in Northern Europe as well.

VIKING SERENADE (1990)

Possibly the quirkiest ship ever owned by Royal Caribbean, the Viking Serenade was actually built as the 24,000 ton Scandinavia,  a luxury passenger/car ferry, designed to run year round between New York and the Bahamas. Despite the high quality of the ship, the service never really worked out in practice. She came back to Europe for a time, but never really clicked there, either.

Royal Caribbean purchased her in 1990, and gave her an imaginative makeover. A Viking Crown lounge was cantilevered around the funnel, all the car carrying capacity was used for other purposes, and the entire ship was stylishly refurbished to Royal Caribbean standards.

As the Viking Serenade, she spent many profitable years, sailing on year round,  three and four night cruises from Los Angeles to Ensenada and Catalina Island. But she never quite came up to the standards of the rest of the fleet. In particular she had many small cabins, even by Royal Caribbean standards.

Sold to Island Cruises and later incorporated into the Thomson Cruises fleet, she sails on as the budget cruise ship, Island Escape. At one time, she also offered a winter season from Brazil, but now sails almost exclusively on seven night, destination intensive Mediterranean itineraries. A recent refurbishment added some balcony cabins to parts of the ship, in order to increase her viability. She remains a popular, high density staple of the UK cruising market.

Entrance lobby on Majesty Of The Seas

Entrance lobby on Majesty Of The Seas

MONARCH OF THE SEAS (1992)

Delivered from France in 1992, the 74,000 ton Monarch Of The Seas was the second of the three ship, Sovereign class trio that marked the beginning of the dramatic expansion of Royal Caribbean as a major player. She, too, became a spectacular and successful staple of the seven night Caribbean circuit, sailing from Miami and, later, from Puerto Rico.

Like her two sisters, the Monarch Of The Seas was updated with the addition of some sixty two balcony suites and cabins. She then went round to Los Angeles, from where she sailed fora few years on three and four night cruises to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. Subsequently, she returned via Panama to Port Canaveral, from where she operated similar, short three and four night Bahamas cruises until April, 2013.

Renamed as Monarch, she also made the transition over to Pullmantur Cruises. Now painted in the same deep, royal blue paint scheme as the rest of the fleet, she sails year round, seven night Caribbean cruises from Aruba, an obvious and telling echo of her original employment with Royal Caribbean.

So, there you have it. I hope this little voyage into the past has brought back some memories and, hopefully, provided some inspiration for those that might have missed these five, fine vessels the first time around. They are still sailing and- in the immortal words of Royal Caribbean itself- my advice is; get out there.

Happy sailing!

THOMSON PLATINUM CRUISES- UPPING THE ANTE

Thomson cruises; promising platinum

Thomson cruises; promising platinum

Thomson Cruises has decided to up the ante for at least two of its four ship fleet, by creating a lifestyle brand now being touted as Thomson Platinum.

The two vessels in question- Thomson Dream and Thomson Celebration- will receive enhancements designed to create a more fresh, contemporary look throughout each vessel. The line cites the installation of flat screen televisions in all cabins, plus iPod docking stations in all of the suites.as indicative of this new direction.

In addition, both ships will have tea and coffee making facilities across all cabins grades, and there will also be a themed, a la carte restaurant on each ship. Bars and lounges throughout each of the ships will be refreshed, with an emphasis on mood lighting, rich new colours, and touchable textiles, whatever that means.

As part of an ongoing addition of balconies right across the fleet, Thomson Celebration will also be gaining some twenty six balcony cabins. The ship is scheduled to winter in the Caribbean.

In addition to the cosmetic upgrades, cruises for both ships will be paired with more upscale, cruise and stay options.

How does this work out in terms of value for both the Platinum Cruises and the other two ships- Thomson Majesty and Thomson Spirit. I looked at some prices on the Thomson Cruises website, and this is what came up;

A week long, Adriatic Explorer itinerary on the Thomson Majesty in mid- June 2014 comes in at around £900 per person, based on an inside cabin, with flights from London. The online price quotes a saving of some £580.

A week long Mediterranean Medley cruise on the Platinum enhanced Thomson Dream sails from Palma that same week, also for seven nights. prices, based on an inside cabin and with flights from London, come in at- £900 per person. The site lists an online saving of £480.

So the line has actually not put any kind of premium on the two upgraded ships at first glance. Which leaves me to wonder; what exactly they are trying to achieve here?

Creating this kind of division within a five ship fleet (Thomson also continues to operate the former First Choice cruises’ Island Escape as well) seems a curious thing to do, though doubtless there is some inherent logic behind it. Perhaps it is simply the first step in a general attempt to upgrade the entire fleet to a higher standard.

An interesting conundrum, to be sure. Stay tuned.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? SHIPS YOU LOVED, AND THOUGHT YOU HAD LOST……

Sovereign of the Seas is now sailing for Pullmantur as the imaginatively monickered Sovereign

Sovereign of the Seas is now sailing for Pullmantur as the imaginatively monickered Sovereign

There are quite literally millions of people who love to travel on the big, fun filled floating theme parks of today. More, in fact, than at any other time in history. And that figure is still rocketing skywards; fuelled by cheap fares, excellent value, and the arrival of a continuous conga line of new builds, each one seemingly laden with more time killing (and money costing) on board diversions than ever before.

But if your cruise history goes back a decade or two (or, whisper it, even three), then the ships you first cruised on will have been very different in style, concept, and probably size. The new blood of today is descended from a long line of much smaller ships, many of them fondly remembered for their big personalities and fun, on board vibe. As new ships came on line, these smaller, less gimmick suffused little gems seemed to vanish like Atlantic fog.

Ah, but did they?

You would be pleasantly surprised- and in some cases, no doubt, delighted- to learn how many of ‘those you have loved ‘ vessels are still sailing for other operators. In some cases, they are into their third or fourth lives. And, amazingly, they are still giving pleasure to an entire new generation of new passengers. PSo, put on your deck shoes, put down your pina colada (for now), and let’s take a little walk down memory lane….

Remember Carnival’s first string run of mega ships from the mid eighties; Holiday, Jubilee, Celebration? Well, all three are still very much out there. The former Jubilee is now sailing in the Chinese domestic market, under the name of Henna. The Holiday and Celebration have been reunited at Iberocruises, the Spanish speaking offshoot of Carnival. Little changed, they sail these days as the Grand Holiday and Grand Celebration respectively.

Royal Caribbean had some of the most famous ships of all in the late eighties and early nineties; if you remember the sprightly little Nordic Empress, you’ll find that she’s still sailing for Spanish all inclusive operator. Pullmantur, under the name of Empress. Also with Pullmantur are the former Sovereign of the Seas, now called Sovereign, and the Monarch of the Seas, now styled simply as Monarch.

The company also used to run the squat, stubby little Viking Serenade out of Los Angeles on short trips out to Ensenada, Mexico. She, too, lives on, as the all inclusive Island Escape, and she’s now with Thomson Cruises.

Celebrity Cruises was the true wonder kid on the block in the early nineties, with a pair of stylish, 45,000 ton sisters- Horizon and Zenith- that became bywords for culinary excellence and sheer, outstanding style. For over a decade, these lovely twin sisters were the brightest stars on the summertime New York to Bermuda run.

After being apart for several years, the two sisters, still bearing their original names- have now been reunited under the Croisieres De France banner, a French operation that has them operating summer Mediterranean cruises, and winter voyages in the Caribbean.

Still missing some ships? There will be an update to this piece. Maybe even two.

Stay tuned…